Last year, Marvel Comic’s deal with Netflix yielded one of the best comic book adaptions in years, Daredevil, a thirteen episode series about the origins and life of the Marvel comics character Daredevil (go figure). After watching the first season in literally one day, I couldn’t wait for the second season to hit Netflix. Well, now it’s here, and it’s definitely making itself noticed.
After putting Wilson Fisk away last season, Nelson and Murdock, attorneys at law, aren’t having the best of times. They’re completely broke, and the only payment they’re getting from their clientele is homemade pie and crates of bananas. Naturally, this course is unsustainable. So when a villain with military grade hardware arrives on the scene taking out the various mobs, Matt and his alter-ego, Daredevil, is eager to head after him. But with his past catching up to him, his friends leaving him, and a deadly new organization making a play for Hell’s Kitchen, can Matt make it through alive?
I loved the first season of Daredevil, and I couldn’t wait for the second installment. For those who don’t know, Daredevil took risks by being a dark and gritty imagining of the character, rather than the more colorful and casual style that Marvel usually defers towards when making a comic book adaption. This meant that the series dealt with a lot of themes that something like an Avengers movie wouldn’t be able to do, because people like Captain America or Iron Man weren’t bothering themselves with beating the crap out of mobsters at night.
I usually criticize companies like DC Comics for basing their character’s recent adaptions in a more gritty and serious tone, when it’s really just contrived seriousness anyway, and it dosen’t even fit the character. My point is, maturity dosen’t come from Superman snapping someone’s neck and then screaming about it, or sucking all of the color out of the movie in post (you can see my position on Man of Steel quite clearly here), it comes from Batman wresting with the choices he’s made in trying to make his seemingly doomed city a better place. I could probably write a dissertation on how The Dark Knight Trilogy deals with serious and mature themes while also remaining interesting, believable, and even downright funny at times (what do you know?), but that’s not the place for this. My point is that there are two kinds of “maturity”. There’s the actual kind that is written by smart people to make other people actually think when they exit the theater, and then there’s the kind that makes blind fanboys squeal because “IT’S SO REALISTIC”. Daredevil is really good at the first kind.
To prove my point, I’ll talk about the characters in the show. The characters that are penned in every episode are so good, it’s almost unbelievable. I don’t understand. Daredevil is a show that is defined more by it’s characters than the situations they’re put in. And that’s not a dig at the plot, that’s still great too. What I mean is that Matt as a character deciding to blow off Karen and Foggy and their important case in order to go beat up the Yakuza at night with Elektra is more important to the development of the show as a whole than Matt and Elektra actually beating up the Yakuza at night. So, in a show that values character more over story, it stands to reason that the characters would be good. Well, actually, it dosen’t stand to reason, but in Daredevil‘s case, the characters are all fantastic.
But even at that level, everything else pales in comparison to the way the writers handled the Punisher (Frank Castle). (Minor explanatory SPOILERS in here.) He was originally portrayed as a villain, and you were made to assume that he was the worst of the worst. Then, he and Matt had a nice conversation about vigilante-ism and the morality of both their actions on the roof, and you started to get the sense that there might be a lot more to the character. Then, wham! The writers hit you with his backstory, and you can’t help but feel bad for him. But he’s still a villain. So, he meets with Karen, and you (as well as Karen) end up seeing a part of him that no one else did. A nice part. A lost man searching for answers, and at this point there’s no way you can’t root for him. He eventually does more villainous things, but I can’t help myself, I’m invested now. The long trail of answers and character development that the writers lead you on in relation to Frank Castle make you question everything you know about the character, and the show itself.
Fun Daredevil fact: If you were picking up on the imagery, you might have noticed that the cuts, bruises, and various damage to Frank Castle that accumulate over the course of the season make his face look progressively more like a skull as the story goes on.
As I stated above, Daredevil is really good at the first kind of “maturity” on TV and in movies. The show, for the most part, makes you think about and question the actions of the characters, and mainly succeeds in being somewhat morally ambiguous. However, there are times when it dips into the “contrived maturity” portion. Now, Daredevil can be a very violent show. Mostly, the violence is needed to advance the plot, or to prove a point, or for the ever-important character development. But there are certainly times when the violence dips past reasonable levels and heads into unneeded territory. I hate to see it happen, because it makes me somewhat squeamish, but mostly because when the violence becomes gratuitous, it starts to feel more like contrived maturity rather than the actual thing.
Seeing the Punisher beat the crap out of an entire cell block is important for his character, and when Elektra makes her choice to kill, that’s also important. But sometimes, I just didn’t need to see that guy loose his eye. It’s as simple as that. It sounds more like personal preference than actual legitimate criticism (which I’m all about here at the Fortress), but it does make a difference. At a point, it starts to feel like Marvel is just getting trigger happy with the violence because they’re on Netflix, and have to round out their precious TV-MA rating. I still hold steadfast to my belief that Daredevil is a very nuanced and flexible character (tone wise), and a dark and intense telling of his story totally works, but when the violence gets this gratuitous at times, it just starts to feel contrived, and that’s the last thing that should happen.
As I said above, Daredevil is fantastic at creating a dark and “realistic” world, and populating it with believable and life-like characters. It was good at it in the first season, and it’s only gotten better in it’s second outing. Even though the violence is a bit much at times, the plot enters new and interesting areas, the characters are tested in new ways, and ultimately, the universe is expanded into compelling and marvelous (heh) forms. This is exactly what I wanted, and I hope Daredevil can keep this momentum running in the foreseeable future.
While the more brooding take on the Man Without Fear Daredevil offers is not particularly new, it’s still unashamedly compelling. Blending a real world, compelling characters, fantastic action, and an unparalleled forward momentum, Daredevil‘s second season will keep you engrossed until the last set of credits finally roll.